Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is carcinoma anywhere along the large intestine. Bowel cancer is a malignant growth (uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that can spread to surrounding tissue).

Most bowel cancers develop from tiny growths called polyps. Polyps look like small spots on the bowel lining. Important to note that not all polyps become cancerous. Polyps can be removed and can reduce the risk of developing bowel cancer. 

Bowel cancer is the 2nd most common cause of cancer in both men and women over 50 years old. 

Risk factors for Bowel cancer:

  • Age, especially in those over 50 
  • Have had IBS or IBD
  • A previous history of special types of polyps called adenomas
  • Family history of bowel cancer or polyps 

Symptoms include:

  • Bleeding from the rectum or any sign of blood after a bowel motion
  • A recent change in bowel habits such as loose bowel motions, severe constipation and/or if you need to go to the toilet more often than usual
  • Unexplained tiredness or weight loss
  • Abdominal pain.

If you experience any of these symptoms it does not necessarily mean you have bowel cancer but a GP should be consulted to further investigate the cause. 

Screening and diagnosis

Screening involves assessing for traces of blood in the stool. Often the first step for individuals who do not display any symptoms.

Immunochemical Faecal Occult Blood Test (iFOBT). This test is the most beneficial screening tool, however, there is no test that is 100% accurate in detecting bowel cancer. 

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) suggests that individuals between the ages of 50 and 75 should have a bowel screening every 2 years even if they do not present any symptoms. However, for individuals with a family history or begin to notice a change in stool habits, should contact their GP to organise testing that will be best suited to them. 

bowel cancer